If you don’t know the culture, you’ll never truly know the language. Don’t just look at a textbook. Watch the dramas, the movies. Listen to the music.
Language learning is all about engaging with the culture. And recently, I encountered a great example of why cultural knowledge (historical, current, popular – any and all forms of cultural knowledge) is key to linguistic competency.
In a group chat with well over a dozen native Koreans, I’m a quiet American. We mostly talk business opinions there – should we start this new side project, how should we respond to this request for promotion, what are our stats for last month. That sort of thing. It’s my unofficial training ground for the kind of Korean that I never got around to learning in college: business Korean.
So, sentence by sentence, I pull it apart. And then I run into a word I cannot find anywhere.
궁예질. Continue reading
Green. Everywhere, green. Green baked with South Korean sunshine. The fresh, clean scent of mountains clad with green tea bushes. And heat. Oh, yes. At ten in the morning, it was brutally hot in the green tea fields, and it was only getting hotter.
Into the 시골
Rewind about twenty hours. It was midsummer in 2015. I was on a bus leaving Seoul, heading into the countryside in search of the famous Boseong Green Tea Fields (보성녹차밭). Continue reading
The Spring 2018 Edition of Nabillera, an online literary magazine that provides translations of contemporary Korean literature, is out, and it’s a great one to check out if you’re new to the scene (or if you’re an old hat, I guess you’re welcome, too).
The Spring 2018 Edition includes short stories and poems as well as interviews with four different Korean authors. It’s great for anyone interested in contemporary literature, Korea, or issues of gender and sexuality; this edition is called “Queer Literature of South Korea“. The previous edition, from Fall 2017, is also available via the “Past Issues” tab on the Nabillera homepage.
Full disclosure – Nabillera was started by a fellow translator/proofreader from my Humans of Seoul translation team, and he has done a fantastic job of selecting contemporary Korean writers to share with an English-speaking audience. I’ve done a little bit of proofreading for some of the translations, but the heavy-lifting is all his and his volunteer team! As he is a full-time college student spearheading a substantial literary translation project, this edition is nothing short of an exceptional achievement – especially since the Korean writers are paid an honorarium.
If you enjoy the work that he and his team at Nabillera are doing, please help support the publication of the next edition.
지금 재생 중
Learning another language is an unavoidably humbling experience. Either you find yourself humbled by how stupid you feel but push on with the dream of some day expressing yourself to the fullest – or the feeling of stupidity crowds out everything else until you give up. Continue reading
It’s time to talk about Bad Language Days™.
We all have them. And no, I’m not talking about swearing. I’m talking about the days when, seemingly out of nowhere, your brain shuts down and refuses to function in your second (or third, or fourth) language.
If I’m being completely honest, I’ll admit Bad Language Days happen in my native English, too. Cannot compute. Cannot English. Cannot Korean. Words come to a full stop, and if I’m lucky, this happens before I’m halfway through a word or sentence that I’ve forgotten how to say. A word that I’ve never had a problem pronouncing becomes a mouthful of pain. Continue reading
I’m working my way through the bestselling book, 언어의 온도, aka The Temperature of Language, and not everything is as it first seems. Take this excerpt:
“몇 해 전, 봄을 알리는 비가 지나간 스산한 저녁이었다. 출판도시에서 일을 보고 차를 몰아 자유로에 진입했다.”
자유. Ja-yu. It means freedom, it means liberty; it’s a word with a relaxed approach to things. In translating this line, I calmly attributed this word to the author’s description of her driving style, but I was still confused by the usage of ~로 and ~에 at the end of 자유.
When my S.O. checked my work and left a corrective comment, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Apparently 자유로 (自由路) is a famous road in Korea, one that runs from Seoul to Paju, which is a city ripe with publishing companies and considered the publishing capital of Korea, just south of the demilitarized zone. It’s known for being a place where ghosts are spotted, and it’s quite literally called Freedom Road. It never occurred to me that it was the name of a street, even though I’m familiar with 로 denoting a road rather than being used as a grammatical marker.
“A few years ago, the passing rains spoke of spring, and it was a bleak evening. I had work at the Publishing City, and I entered through Freedom Road, driving my car.”
There’s even a Liberty Street near where I live, and it’s a common enough name for a road; isn’t it interesting that my mind couldn’t make that seemingly obvious conclusion? This is why I love translation; this is why I’ve served as a translator for Humans of Seoul for two years now. There is always some new nuance to be uncovered, like buried treasure hidden in the silt of everyday conversation.
지금 재생 중
여러분 안녕하세요! 늦었지만 새해 복 많이 받으시길~
And just like that, another year has come and gone.
The latter half of 2017 was a terrible year for my Korean language studies, but the rest was fantastic. I was enrolled in my teacher’s specially-designed independent study to write nine-episode fanfiction (mine’s published here). I also started my honors thesis around this time last year, and for several incredibly intense, fast-paced months, I immersed myself in prose, poems, and dusty tomes from the university library.
My thesis centered on The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Shin Kyung-sook (famous for Please Look After Mom and I’ll Be Right There). While I mainly referenced the English edition, I had the Korean (titled 외딴 방) to verify which Korean words were used for what. The nuance of the translation of ‘factory girl’ from Korean words like 공순이, 여공, and 노동자 was a vital part of my analysis. The history and culture surrounding each word is different, and it makes a huge difference in contextualizing meaning and emotion.
This is the nuance of language, the nuance of feeling: the essence of the everyday. Continue reading
It’s been a few months since I’ve posted here, and if I’m completely honest, it’s been more than a few months since I’ve, you know, actually posted. My most recent posts were scheduled well in advance. Why?
At the end of April, I graduated undergrad. I graduated with High Honors on my honors thesis in Korean Studies, won a prestigious award for Korean Studies, nabbed a second major in International Studies, got a short story published in a college lit magazine, said goodbye to almost all my friends, and started working full-time a day after commencement ceremonies.
Adulting is hard.
It’s also terrifying because I’m doing two seemingly opposing things. One’s commended by everyone I meet. The other? Well, let’s just say not everyone understands why I’m doing it. Continue reading
둘이 움직이지 않고 서 있었다. 뒤에서 온 기정이는
우연이를 껴안아서 우는 소리를 작게 내고 있었다. 우연이가 기정이의 머리를 쓰다듬자 기정이의 울음이 그쳤다.
“못된 안예림의 복수 땜에 난 널 또 다시 놓친 줄 알았어. 너무 무서웠어, 우연아. 널 또 놓칠 수도 있다는 생각에 진짜 죽을 뻔 했단 말이야.” 속마음을 털어놓고 있는 기정이가 우연이를 계속 껴안고서 말했다. Continue reading
이제 일주일에 두 번씩 나오는 드라마가 3회까지 방송됐지만 드라마에 대한 인터뷰나 관련 기사가 나올 때마다 우연이는 반드시 찾아 봤다. 머릿속에서 키워 손으로 만들어 낸 그 이야기를 티브이에서 볼 수 있었다. 얼마나 좋은지 몰랐다. 그리고…기정이를 다시 보게 된 것은 생각보다 괜찮았다는 생각이 들었다.
이번에는 감독을 만나러 회사에 온 겸 우연이는 티브이를 보면서 우연이가 크로키를 하고 있었다. 지나가고 있는 스탭들은 보통 인사를 하고 계속 걸어갔지만 갑자기 한 명이 우연이 앞에 멈추었다. 어느덧 지나가고 있는 태신이었다. 잠시 후에 태신이가 우연이 옆에 앉았지만 우연이는 상관없이 계속 티브이를 보며 스케치했다. 바로 그 때 티브이에서는 기정이의 라이브 인터뷰를 방송하고 있었다. 태신이도 티브이를 봤다. Continue reading